The personal retreat

7 ways to turn your bathroom into your own heavenly space
BY TED CRITTENDEN

Your master bathroom does not have to be the austere white utilitarian room of the past. Instead, it can be a three-dimensional expression of your physical, emotional and spiritual side - the place where you escape to think, relax and rejuvenate.

Today, we can get anything in bathrooms: waterproof televisions, towel heaters and ambient floor heating. It's not uncommon for a bathroom remodel to run as much as what a house sold for in the late 1970s.

And who has time these days to go to the spa or even fork over the cost for one of those deep-tissue massages? By making simple updates to your bathroom at home, you can actually treat yourself to your very own spa experience every day.

Luxury can be added to almost every design - through the fixtures, lighting, paint, storage and accessories you choose. Here the big ticket items like tubs are as critical as the small.

Here are seven ways you can turn your bathroom into your own personal retreat.

1. INCORPORATE STYLE ELEMENTS FROM ELSEWEHRE When in doubt about styling your bathroom remodel, consider pulling in design elements from the rest of the home. "The plan was to create a vintage feeling home with very clean lines, since one of the owners is a photographer with a very good eye," said architect Ion R. Stiegler. She describes the style as "Beach-Craftsman."

"As a firm we also do a lot of historic preservation, so pulling in vintage elements is very natural for us."

Stiegler points out the way the bathroom dovetails into the rest of the home. Subway tiles, stained cherry doors, traditional Craftsman casings and the same color palette are used throughout the home. The door of the bathing area aligns with the master bedroom doors, allowing a continuous view from the home's courtyard. The cleanliness of design precluded cluttering the walls with bars, hooks or art, giving the bath an inviting picture postcard look from another era.

2. EASE TENSION THROUGH SIMPLICITY Argentine designer Sol Quintana Wagoner of Jackson Design and Remodeling found herself in a situation where massive reconfiguration was out of the question. The clients were empty-nesters who had lived with the same bathroom for 20 years. They wanted a clean and Zen-like feel as opposed to the clutter they had lived with.

Wagoner inserted touches of color in the tile selection, giving the otherwise monochromatic design a sense of warmth. The bathroom is a series of rectangles and squares interplaying horizontally and vertically in various harmonizing shades. Even the shower uses this motif as it contrasts the large vertical tiles with the smaller horizontal colored tiles to offset the asymmetrical nature of the shower.

Wagoner set the six-by-twelve tiles vertically, which contrasts nicely with the mosaic niche and large floor tiles. One of Wagoner's main goals was to give the bathroom easy to maintain surfaces as ceramic tiles do.

3. ELIMINATE WALL-SIZED MIRRORS Wall sized mirrors are a leftover concept from the '70s, when common wisdom was to enlarge the room via illusion. As we age, the idea of seeing ourselves fully reflected on a wall becomes less and less appealing. To solve this dilemma Wagoner bridges two his and her vanity mirrors with a sheet of hammered copper. It not only adds unity between the two mirrors making them one large assembly, but it echoes the ruddy nature of the cherry cabinets.

A small makeup mirror sits to the right of the sinks and acts as the sole mirror for a hair and makeup area. Plinth block-style shelves offer interesting spaces for decorating highlights.

4. INVITE IN THE OUTDOORS Designer Pam Johnson of Dream Design Builders turned this Rancho Bernardo bathroom into an environmentalists personal paradise.

"The owners are both avid gardeners, and for several years they had been grooming their plants to create a backdrop for their future bathroom expansion," Johnson said.

The once-modest tract-style bathroom was widened in width as part of a master bedroom remodel. Plumbing was rerouted to give tub and bath new placement so the owners could enjoy their plants as they bathed. Dense foliage in the secluded atrium provides privacy from the front of the house. As the warm, morning light floods into the space. The large rain showerhead offers an inviting shower for the start of the day, and the whirlpool tub offers a soothing refuge for the end of the night. A color neutral palette was chosen for relaxation as well as bouncing the natural light.

5. SET THE MOOD WITH LIGHT Just like a theatrical production, bathroom lighting sets the mood. This Kensington bathroom designed by Artisan Brothers uses darkened blue walls to knock down the ambient light of a bright space. Simple can lighting gives the room dramatic highlights over the clawfoot tub. The millworks are by Nuevo Design and the leaded glass is by Diane Eme of Phantasia Art glass. Natural exterior lighting combined with wood detailing adds an elegant, masculine flavor to the room.

6. PUT YOUR TUB AND SHOWER FRONT AND CENTER Elegance in bathing goes back to the time of the ancients. Part of the key to relaxation is to have a tub or shower that visually beckons for its daily usage. Think of your shower or tub as an ice cream sundae beautifully presented - it tastes better than the same ingredients poorly presented. Putting your tub and shower front and center takes the emphasis off the less-glamorous uses of the space, such as the toilet and grooming areas. Although rerouting plumbing or widening rooms for the sake of tubs or showers is costly, in the end it can be worth it, not only in resale value but in piece of mind.

7. REMOVE CLUTTER AND ADD DETAILS The master bathroom is the one room that most guests will never see, yet it should be the one room that should always presentable to a guest. In this case the guest is you.

Nothing is more disconcerting while trying to relax than clutter. How much stuff do we really need on our vanities and in our showers? Do we want to see a scale? Do we have a place to hang a robe or set a cup of tea?

Likewise, decor that is visible is equally powerful in terms of healing quality, whether it is as cliche as scented candles and artwork or benign as crisp white towels. Unlike a luxurious high-end hotel bathroom you might visit, your bathroom is yours, to do as you wish.

Jackson Design and Remodeling